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October 2, 2015 5:26 am

Israeli, American and Palestinian Launch ‘Peace’ Game App

avatar by Michael Zeff / Tazpit News Agency

The iPhone5. Photo: Apple.

The iPhone5. Photo: Apple.

SAN FRANCISCO – Bandura Games, a computer gaming company based in San Francisco, California, is set to launch a new mobile game app that will build connections and create empathy among people from different sides of conflict zones.

Justin Hefter, Bandura Games’ CEO, traveled to Israel in the summer of 2014 to see if he could find a way to use games to bring Israeli and Palestinian youth together.

In an interview with Tazpit News Agency, Hefter explained what set him on this path. “I graduated from Stanford University with a degree in public policy in 2011. One of the things I did as an undergrad was work with Jewish and Muslim students on campus to come up with events to bring people together.”

“I always wanted to take those experiences that brought people together and scale them up. So in 2014 I left my job and traveled to Israel to see if there was a way I could use online video games to bring Israelis and Palestinians together,” he said.

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It was on that trip that Hefter met with an Israeli, Etay Furman, and a Palestinian, Ammoun Dissi, and together they began researching Israeli and Palestinian gaming preferences. While conducting interviews and play-testings in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the team realized the full potential of their idea and shifted from focusing on just one particular conflict zone to creating a game that can be used globally.

“We realized that we had an opportunity to bring youths together not just across the Israeli-Palestinian divide, but really around the world, across any divide. Whether it’s India-Pakistan, China-Taiwan or the Democrat-Republican divide in the United States,” Hefter recounted.

Thus, Bandura Games was founded in 2014 by three partners from the United States, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, with a mission to bridge gaps through cooperative play mobile games, with the ultimate hope of making the world a less violent and more understanding place.

Bolstered by peer-reviewed scientific studies that posit that cooperative play and working toward a common goal can induce empathy, foster personal bonds and forge trust between strangers and adversaries, Bandura Games designed RunZoo, that can only be won through teamwork.

“A new study came out of the university of Aarhus, Denmark, showing that when people play cooperative games, as opposed to competitive games, their heart rates begin to sync up,” said Hefter. “Another study from McGill University found that people who are total strangers can become friends after just 15 minutes of playing a game together.”

The game is nonviolent and  it incentivizes players to make friends with other players in different countries. Initially, team-ups are anonymous — but during the progression of the game, players find out about their teammates, and can then become friends.

“You are randomly paired with a person around the world; in the course of the gameplay you complete joint missions, overcome obstacles together and save each other’s lives,” Hefter said. “Only after you meet a critical threshold of partnership do you then find out who that person is and where he is from, and you see your overlapping likes and interests.”

Hefter explained that the random pairing is based not on differences between players but upon similarities: “When we interviewed Israeli and Palestinian kids, we discovered that both groups enjoy the same kinds of music, games, food — the same kinds of fun. More so than, say, Israelis and Americans.”

“What you end up seeing is that by pairing people based on their similar interests in music or food you are actually going to end up having people from across conflict zones playing together, and that is the whole point.”

RunZoo is expected to launch later this year, and will be made available for iOS, Android phones and tablets by next summer.

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